My 11year old asked me “why do they say creativity is contagious?”. He was reading an assignment given by his teacher mentioning this phrase. He was only used to the word “contagious” in the context of disease and catching an illness at the school from someone else. Associating “creativity” with “contagious” was new to him.
I explained that contagious could also be used in a positive way when you are inspired by someone around you to do a similar thing. A young boy in the apartment upstairs plays the piano on some days. He plays it quite well and we enjoy the sounds wafting into our home. The day he has played the piano, my son would get his keyboard out and play a bit on his own, as if he was thinking about the music he had heard and was inspired to try some himself. When I mentioned this as an example for “creative contagious”, he said, “oh right, this happens at school too. When someone starts telling a story and each one adds a funny piece to it, and by the end of the class it becomes a comedy khichdi!”
I myself, have seen this happen to me several times. When I see a beautiful zentangle drawing posted by a friend, I am inspired to pick a pen and paper and draw something myself. It is nothing closer to her levels of creativity, but it definitely makes me want to try. It is the same with recipes. When I see some interesting mix of ingredients on my Pinterest feed, my mind immediately starts thinking of things I can put together. I get into the kitchen and try something new.
I recently joined a Facebook group of sari lovers. I am a huge fan of the 6 yards of drape. I noticed that these regular women who are not models or have no professional stylists to help, were creative not only with the way they draped their saris but also what they matched the yardage with. The blouse that is a quintessential piece of the attire needs to be tailored to fit. Reams of stories can be written about the woes of finding the right kind of tailor, interesting design, getting the fit right etc. As a woman’s body undergoes changes through pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, many of these blouses cease to fit, leaving the saris unfolded in the cupboard. But on this group, I saw women match their gorgeous sarees with tank tops, shirts and crop tops. I was immediately inspired to try my own creative combinations. A 7 days sari challenge made me think about my wardrobe differently. Many of my regular tops, that I wore on jeans or skirts, became a match for the saris. The creativity was contagious.
In most tribal societies, there is some form of creative expression that is encouraged as a community. This could be a dance form, a way of painting, a unique method of weaving fabric or baskets, ways of welding metal into jewelry, storytelling, tying knots into carpets, stone craving etc. These are usually practiced as a community. People are inspired by each other, leading to some beautiful artefacts and artforms.
In the kind of dispersed world we live today, such communities are in the virtual space. We join groups of people that share similar interests and passion. Seeing one do something new, immediately triggers a few others to try it. I still remember a Whatsapp conversation where someone started typing messages in limerick and everyone continued to write in that style for next few days. Each one discovering a hidden talent of writing that way. In another group, we had to write a paragraph each picking up on the cues left by the previous person. We saw the plot for an interesting fiction story emerge from it.
I am not entirely sure why creativity is contagious though. Maybe we all are born creative, curious and inquisitive. Maybe we are supposed to be just as creative as rational or logical. And when we are inspired, we might be just finding our way back to our natural, creative self. An infant finds ingenious ways to attract mother’s attention. A toddler works out techniques to crawl and then stand and eventually walk. All without anybody’s guidance. Young children work through complex art of learning languages and making sense of the world. Then we begin to attend school. We get ready answers. Tried and tested formulae, operating principles etc. We are told what to say and do and not do. The need to think, be curious and a desire to explore diminishes.
Maybe, then one day we see, hear or experience something creative. It lights up the parts of the brain that have been untouched. It is like we are unconsciously searching for a spark to illuminate a part of our self. Maybe our brain forms some new synapses when it is stimulated by creative ideas. Maybe connections that were dormant somewhere deep inside suddenly become alive. We latch on to that which gives us sense of play and joy. And when there is a medium and a space to share what we ourselves have seen, felt and done, we truly help many catch the creativity bug. We help fulfil their quest.
So, the adage attributed to Einstein “Creativity is contagious, pass it on” could be just as profound as his other more famous theories.